Imagine that one day, out of the blue, someone comes up with an idea and decides to develop it just for fun, and that this idea then continues to grow and take shape. That’s how Wall&decò, led by Christian Benini (creative director), and its collections of wallpapers got started. Recently the company grew even stronger after it was acquired by the Swedish group Wallvision. We talked to Christian Benini who retraced the company’s milestones and talked a bit about what’s in store for the future.
It all started with your intuition as an advertising photographer: you were triggered by an image of large leaves to use as a background. What happened?
That’s exactly right. A set that I created for a photo shoot, and which architect friends of mine admired for its decorative potential, gave me the idea to more broadly develop this decoration for interior spaces.
We started testing out a few samples and the result was a lot of fun, making it possible to quickly change the appearance of a space. I started to play and experiment with patterns of varying sizes until I finally came up with the basis for the first collection.
Then you started production.
At first it was just about design. Then we started proposing the idea to various catalogues, but without an internal production. After about a year and a half we started to produce internally, because we wanted to oversee the entire process, as well as experiment with different solutions and figure out how to implement the production of the materials.
Then came the international trade shows.
I chose Maison&Objet for the official launch. This was fifteen years ago. In Italy wallpaper was a very marginal product that got little attention. Paris was the only place in which the project would have been understood, and that’s what happened. First of all by the trade show itself, which liked it a lot and gave me the opportunity to display the first panels. And that’s how it all began. My intuition saw wallpaper not as an all-over covering or as a simple finishing touch, but as a piece of décor that characterises an environment. That’s why we’ve always focused on industry trade shows.
What was your stylistic evolution?
Outside designers arrived almost immediately, in our collaborations with Talva Design and Giovanni Pagani, who are still part of our creative team. It was always my intention to open the company up to others who could make a stylistic contribution different from my own, encouraging a richer and more diverse creative foundation. At the moment more than 25 designers, each with different backgrounds, contribute continuously to the collections, because that was always the objective: to ask designers, stylists, illustrators, and artists to reinterpret wallpaper and, above all, to have an open mind regarding this product so as to provide a vision of it that differs from the traditional one. I enjoy paving this way together.
How does this relationship unfold?
By always working on specific input, on trends that we want to develop. Each of us creates a product that is absolutely original and personal. I’d like to stress that. Each one has its unique characteristics.
How did your first showroom in Milan resonate strategically? What about those in Miami and Singapore?
The one in Milan is absolutely the most important. Milan is the capital of Italian design, and being there gives us the chance to be present on the market throughout the entire year, making it possible for us to follow architects and clients. The others are more spread out, in collaboration with our local partners, allowing us to be more effective locally.
Since 2012 there has been a surge of technology. The patented Wet System line, wallpaper for showers, was created.
The idea took its cue from Wall&decò’s philosophy: that of providing solutions to designers, who are our first spokesmen. Even with the vinyl product Contemporary Wallpaper the number of customizable solutions made all the difference right from the very beginning. We started with one of our graphic designs which can be modified in terms of size, colour, or other input. Using the same method, we researched the technical side. To be able to decorate the shower, meaning the area that comes into contact with water, was something for which we received many requests. The challenge was to bring a highly technical dimension to a performance of that kind and that’s how Wet System came to be, through a collaboration with the chemical partners who followed us. The result was a wallpaper with a waterproof membrane that is easy to care for, practical, and resistant to abrasions, chemical cleaning agents, humidity, etc.
Did this affect the creative aspect?
Absolutely not. We only had to take into consideration that we were working with a restrictive environment and therefore that the surfaces and sizes of the designs would have to be reduced for purely practical reasons. So we scaled down the dimensions of all of the graphics. The idea was to create an alternative to the monochrome colour of resin or tiles.
What are the Bronzage ® print base and Color Match printing system?
With Bronzage ®, which has a metallic base, we are able to obtain various kinds of metallic effects, and it is conceived as an alternative to Contemporary Wallpaper. Color Match is a system for adjusting colors, which we always keep regulated, of all the machines with technical catalogues, so that, even if they are printed with different technologies, their colors are extraordinarily close to those of our wallpapers.
The product of much technological research, five collections are currently available: Essential Wallpaper, Contemporary Wallpaper, Style Colors, Wet System, and Out System, dedicated to cladding external facades. Do you have a favourite?
I always love the most recently developed. So Style Colors (the shades), but especially Essential Wallpaper, a collection of vinyl wallpaper with 3D embossing. In this case we lose the customizable aspect, but we focus on the workmanship of the surface, which allows us to create plays of light.
How are you positioned in the residential and large contract markets, both nationally and internationally?
The proportions are 35% in Italy and 65% exports. Recently we’ve dedicated ourselves to many hotel projects. They’re interesting and we have a good time. Ours is a very high end product, so, in terms of large contracts, it’s a part of very unique and personalised contexts in which we interpret specific themes and the result becomes almost like a tattoo. That’s why, on the website, we take great care with our ‘projects’ section, which we love to share.
In 2018 Wall&decò became part of the Swedish group Wallvision, a producer and distributor of high end wallpaper. Has your role changed?
Our intention was to have a true industrial partner in our world, not a financial partner, that would allow us access to different tools and help us to grow sooner, faster, and with different structures. The commercial, creative, marketing, and manufacturing divisions remain in Italy. Every Wallvision brand maintains its identity and independence. There’s the figure of the CEO, Jonas Sjoo, leaving me free to dedicate myself fully to the artistic direction and marketing. We’ve finally managed to start construction on the new company headquarters, which will remain in Cervia, and hope to move into them in January 2020.
What are you working on at the moment?
The key word in everything right now is ‘Salone del Mobile’. We’re working on collections, stands, showroom events, and on the launch of the new Essential Wallpaper Collection and Style Color Collection.
Anything you can share?
All I can tell you is who designed it. Studiopepe is doing a great job of interpreting Essential Wallpaper, their second large project for us.